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B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
The chameleon-like Atlanta MC continued to switch hats at a furious pace on his debut, turning in the most musically adventurous and successful major label rap album since Andre 3000's The Love Below. Also, B.o.B was 21 when his Billboard-topping record dropped in April. Also, he follows the tear-jerker radio duet with Paramore's Hayley Williams "Airplanes"with the Southern gangsta rap anthem "Bet I."Also, Bobby covers Vampire Weekend. Key Track: "The Kids"
#14 Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae's first full-length album is almost ludicrously ambitious, her megastar charisma sucking in myriad pop genres with the voraciousness of a black hole. Like Outkast in their magic heyday, The ArchAndroid is plausibly appealing to anyone, not because it panders to some shared base impulse, but because it raises the bar high enough that you have to look up just to grin. The wide net isn't really the impressive thing, though. It's the coherence. She leaps towards schizophrenic, somehow landing on well-rounded. Key Track: "Tightrope"
#13 The Walkmen
Another outstanding addition to The Walkmen's now formidable catalog, Lisbon is the first album they've ever made where they don't seem to have felt pressure to choose between slow songs and rockers: they do both brilliantly here, from the sad, glass-clinking "Stranded"to the huge, cathartic "Angela Surf City."Times are tough for no-frills guitar bands, but they don't seem to care. They'll be on trend again at some point in the future, and they probably won't care about that either. Key track: "Angela Surf City"
Broken Dreams Club
When this San Francisco band burst onto the scene last year, led by the enigmatic Christopher Owens, everyone was immediately taken with their brand of pop: It was drugged out, yes, but never so careless to rely on hazy atmospherics. And on top of that, it sort of sounded like Elvis Costello fronting the Beach Boys, with Phil Spector behind the boards. On their follow-up EP, which came out of nowhere just a month or so ago, they show us a more refined sound: the production has improved, and the hooks are even bigger. If this is a sign of what's to come on next year's full-length, they'll find themselves on here three years in a row. Key Track: "Oh So Protective One"
#11 Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
The first time we heard this record, we would have told you without hesitation that there was no way it would wind up on our year-end list. But then something happened: We just kept playing it and playing it for some reason, and it got better and better. The songs are subtle and never too eager to impress, but they do anyway, almost in spite of themselves. The band sounds relaxed and, admittedly, like they're not pushing themselves, but it's hard to deny songs this pretty, stylish, playful and smart. Just as it has been their whole career. Key Track: "I Didn't See It Coming"